Bursting the Bubble

Russian Bear: the test for Europe’s adequacy

25 June 2014 | by

“Let us divide Ukraine between Russia, Poland, Romania and Hungary. It is never too late to correct historical mistakes”. This statement belongs to the odious and scandalous Russian politician Vladimir Zhyrinovskiy. You might also know him from his previous “masterpieces” stating that Ukraine is not a country, rather a fake geopolitical space.

Many people do not take statements of this political figure seriously. Yet, more experienced Russian political observers are aware of Zhyrinovskiy’s special role in Moscow. He is the uncensored, harsh, and frank voice of the Kremlin which the latter is afraid to raise in public.

Those who do not believe this should look at the developments in Ukraine since March. The Molotov-Ribbentrop-II pact, presented by Zhirinovsky, is already starting to be implemented by Russia. Crimea’s annexation, terrorist and separatist support in the East of Ukraine, Putin’s recent reference to the South of the country as “Novorossiya” (New Russia) are all visualisations of the same statement: Ukraine – allegedly a historical misunderstanding – needs to be divided and/or destroyed.

The invasion of Ukraine’s territory is obviously driven by noble considerations: protection of fellows abroad who suffer from aggressive Nazis who came to power following the radical and disgraceful movement on Maidan. The fact that the far-right parties received only 2% of the vote during recent presidential elections is not reducing the Russian states ability to successfully sell this propaganda led fairy tale.

What is, however, worrying and new is when fully-fledged members of the European Union – belonging supposedly to the family of developed and democratic countries – take a similar stance, operate with similar categories and instead of condemning Russia’s aggression alongside the rest of the civilised world, play into its hand. Regrettably, populism is on the rise in many EU countries and true facts are not as sexy and convenient to believe in as well-framed lies.

This special instrument Russia is currently using is the “compatriots argument” in foreign politics. “Compatriots” is a category absolutely non-existent in legal terms but is, however, “determined” by Russia as a person who either self-identifies him/herself as Russian, has Russian roots or simply speaks Russian. Pretty much everybody from the post-Soviet bloc.

Such demagogy finds grounds not only in Ukraine, but presents a real threat for other countries: such as the Baltic states. One alarming signal has been the express concern by a Russian diplomat in the United Nations Human Rights Council over Estonia’s treatment of the Russian minority. Comparing the situation to that of the Russian population in Crimea this is interpreted by many experts as an indirect threat. However, being under the NATO defence umbrella makes the situation for these countries easier. For example, following the agreement with Lithuania and Poland, the US sent fighter jets as part of a training exercise.

Europe’s East and North-East know only too well how hungry the Russia bear can be; hence, the rising concerns and worries which are simmering in neighbouring countries. Poland rekindled the discussion on military modernization and urged, just like Latvia, for a larger military budget. At the same time, NATO-related talks flared up in Finland and Sweden, the latter even calling for a “doctrinal shift” in the country’s defence policy. Amid the turmoil in Ukraine, Russia’s military exercises in the Swedish island of Gotland have been perceived as a worrying signal, backfiring debates about NATO membership.

But the more west you go, the less of a Russian threat you feel. The conviction that the best way to deal with Russia is a mild “democratisation via tying up” approach has always been the EU´s strategic mistake. And those, who proceed with this completely unrealistic “democratic Russia” dream, after the explicit revealing of the bear’s geopolitical appetites, are either blind or have a special interest in such state of affairs.

A possible instrument to at least somehow counteract the threat coming from the Kremlin is imposing sanctions. But real ones: such as the third stage targeting specific areas of Russia’s economy, which would significantly broaden the scope of punitive measures. However, judging by continually re-set red line by the EU, their implementation will apparently be postponed forever. There is simply too much business, indecisiveness and corruption involved for an expression of strong political will in the EU. A convenient and popular excuse not to sanction Russia is purportedly the unwillingness to punish the innocent population who is not responsible for its leadership’s actions. Naturally, the record rise of Putin’s popular support (85.9% in May, according to recent polls) is not taken into consideration when voicing pity for Russians who might become victims of severe economic sanctions.

The EU’s tragedy, however, is that by doggedly following this maniacal idea of liberalising Russia via trading and other contacts, eventually it is Europe which cannot let go now. Having trapped itself, the Union lost its cold-minded ability to assess reality and draw historical parallels. And what is more, the general tendency to perceive the current developments in Ukraine as an internal or, at maximum, a bilateral conflict, is not just a display of EU’s blindness. Not seeing and not recognising the fundamental challenges and threats to the entire system of international security, the EU is heading towards a very dangerous outcome. And when (not if) problems from its backyard – Ukraine – cross the Schengen borders – then it might be too late: effective counter measures will not have been elaborated by then.

 

Parts of this article has been published in VS.hu

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